A Tall Ship Tale #56: Clewless

Liquor of alt.callahans provided technical assistance on this entry.

Ignoring Peabody’s disapproving glares, the First Mate was playing Pac-Man on his PDA. “You know,” he remarked, “We almost made it back from the Jurassic to the 19th century. And so I suppose I should accept life in 523 BC gracefully, and gratefully.”

“But you blame me for being trapped in the past, so you’ve chosen to annoy me instead,” snapped Professor Cornelius Peabody, looking up from the ship’s log; “You know my views about the part your anachronisms have played in our dilemma!”

“If, as you say, anachronisms caused the Legume to lose her grip on time, then why aren’t we all shipwrecked at the end of it? It’s as if we fell off a cliff without hitting the bottom, or went sailing away without weighing anchor first.”

“That reminds me,” said Peabody. “I was going to ask if this log is up to date. I can’t find any record that we raised anchor when we left the Tethys Sea.” They exchanged looks, rushed to the bow of the ship, leaned over the rails and stared. An anchor was missing. Its cable stood out from the hull as if a strong current were pulling it taut. But, several feet above the water, the cable faded away.

Peabody’s hairy hands shook as he filled his pipe. “Might I suggest that you, very carefully, let out a bit more of that cable?” The First Mate summoned the sailors while Peabody tried to figure out how much cable to let out. He converted fathoms to demijohns and gigabytes to shillings, and then he took the sum of the squares since the frigate was square-rigged. He applied a measuring tape to the cable and marked it with a piece of chalk as the men assembled around the capstan. Peabody watched carefully as the cable ran out, and called a halt when the chalk mark reached the edge of the deck. On the shore, the crumbling towers of Panaji faded into monstrous cubes of steel and glass. “Too far! Bring it back a bit,” he called. Then the air pressure dropped so suddenly that their ears popped. A serious gale was rearing up from the east, its clouds so dark that they looked like a tunnel in the sky.

Captain Quid bolted out of the stern cabin and took in the scene with a glance. “Now, men, I know you’re all stormin’ Johns, and I hope to God there’s no farmer in disguise among you. If ever you hope to sail beyond the sunset, furl the sails! Or else I’ll be looking for you on the glory road.”

The men scrambled up the ratlines as the offshore wind and waves started to rise. They fought the sails into bundles and secured them tightly to the yards, clinging desperately to the wildly swaying spars and to each other. Only the spanker at the ship’s stern was kept aloft, to hold the ship’s bow toward the mountainous waves. For three days the Legume thrashed through the storm with four men tied to the wheel and all pumps going. At the height of it, the spanker was wrenched away from its mast by an explosion of wind. They expected to see it disappear over the stern rail, but somehow it stuck to the gaff by tatters and threads until the storm was over. As the Legume limped back into Panaji for repairs, the weary sailors cheered “RAH! RAH!” at the sight of the Union Jack flying over the long wooden sheds of the East India Company. Surely they must be very close to their own time!

The Legume tied up to a vacant buoy far out in the harbor, in the sixth column of ships, out of embarrassment at looking like a tramp royale. The First Mate went ashore to see the sailmaker, for Quid had sworn that the spanker had saved his ship, proving that it was a lucky sail; and he was determined to have it resewn. The sailmaker was called “Rubber-Day” ‘hind linstocks of the local company of redcoats (whose bayonets he also fixed) because he would not leave a job unfinished; he stretched the day until it was done.

“I know that this sail is in a terrible state, and I suppose it might take a long time to stitch, but it would so please the Captain if you could patch it up,” the First Mate explained to Rubber-Day.

“I can do that,” the sailmaker affirmed, tenderly spreading the sail’s remains between
plan-nets. “Lots of work here! But thanks to her, it’s not a problem,” and he nodded grimly at a portrait on the wall. The First Mate glanced at it and saw a torpid-looking young woman with a high forehead and an enigmatic half-smile.

“That’s Lisa — used to be my old lady,” Rubber-Day grunted as he adjusted the red
plan-net. “What’s all too easy the first time, and all but impossible by the third — well, it wasn’t that way for her! How I hated that little smile of hers, for I knew she was remembering some past lover as she measured me up and down with those pitying eyes.” He sighed noisily and exclaimed,

“The Mona’s a harsh mistress!”

The sailmaker threaded a curved needle as he continued. “When I’d had enough of that, I came out here to Goa with a more reasonable woman. She loves me when I’m in the mood, and she loves me when I just want a backrub and a cuddle. Nor is she jealous of my work. Now, take this long side that tore away from your mizzen-mast. In the old days I’d have said ‘cut your losses and let it go, mate.’ But now, there’s …

“…Time enough for luff!”

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